Social Identity Influences on Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors

By Uljas, Juri | Trames, September 2001 | Go to article overview
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Social Identity Influences on Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors

Uljas, Juri, Trames


The given study observes how social identity and the relevant values influence attitudes and behavior towards natural environment. Tajfel (1978, 1982) has proposed a useful definition of social identity as the part of an individual's self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his memberships of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership.

The identification of individuals with a group gives human behavior certain super-individual strength of activity. Social identity appears a regulator as long as people behave differently towards those with whom they do not identify themselves. It is caused by the fact that identity is accompanied by a definite trust-mistrust (Therborn 1991). The more essential a social group appears for a person, the more he is dominated by collective norms and values. The size of the groups may vary from an individual to the whole population of the world. Social identification begins to decrease when we move higher in hierarchy, towards bigger and more abstract groups. While in bigger groups it is difficult to stress social motives, in smaller subgroups it is possible that social motives or orientation towards cooperation appear maximal.

Individuals subject their interests to common interests when they identify themselves with social advantage, when the advantage of a certain group is very clearly expressed and connected with that certain group only. When the resources can be approached by several different groups, the consequences can be worse (Brewer & Schneider 1990).

A successful economy of resources has usually taken place in small communities. These groups are characterized by stability, little mobility of population, and the fact that the majority of the members of the group consider economizing on these resources important.

Identity and environment

The connection of individuals with their social and physical environment is a multidimensional phenomenon wherein it is possible to differentiate between at least two essential dimensions. Thus Riger and Lavrakas (1981) have defined such dimensions as 1) rootedness--or physical attachment; and 2) bondedness--or social involvement.

The first--connection with a location or place attachment is an emotional bond of individuals or groups with their environment (Altman & Low 1992:2). Sometimes the notion of place identity is used as a synonym for place attachment. According to Korpela (1995:19) place identity appears in the form of cognitive aspects (meanings) composed by physical environment and its components, which are used by people to regulate, either consciously or subconsciously, their self-experience in the given physical environment. Older people and people in a poorer socio-economic situation show stronger place attachment (McAndrew 1998). Riger and Lavrakas (1981) have presented the number of years lived in a given location, as well as the ownership of a property, as factors influencing place attachment. Thus place attachment is accompanied by time dimension, which is connected with recognition of one's roots and a defined wish to be connected to the place in the future. An example of time criterion could be the wish that one's children would live in a given place. The ownership of a property indicates economic investments of an individual. It has been found that owners display stronger place attachment than tenants (Logan & Spitze 1994). At the same time it can be assumed that the presence of property, as well as connection with a place, increase connection of individuals with their social group and through that influence their environmental evaluations. In identification an essential role is played by the relations with the neighbors and support received from them (Meschi & Manor 1998). Unlike the relationship between place attachment and environmental evaluations, which has been relatively extensively studied, the relationship between collective identity and natural environment has received comparatively little attention (Kaufmann & Zimmer 1998).

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Social Identity Influences on Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors


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